Married to the Job in Wine Country

Husband & Wife Wineries and Tasting Rooms

ALTHOUGH IT MAY LOOK ROMANTIC around the edges, the winery business is hard work not recommended for the risk-averse. One can imagine that being married to the business—literally and figuratively—presents an extra layer of challenges. We talked to four husband and wife winemaking teams in Napa and Paso Robles to scratch the surface beyond the glamourous.


Frank Family Vineyards •

It was a chance encounter at Bouchon Bistro in Yountville, followed by a second chance encounter on a flight (with a bottle of Pinot Noir woven into the story) that sums up Rich’s delightful telling of “how we met.” It was a palate for Bordeaux varietals and the pull of Napa Valley’s natural beauty that enticed the Disney Studios president and the ABC news reporter away from Hollywood’s hustle and bustle.

Now entering their 27th year in the business, and for eight consecutive years voted “Best Napa Winery” by Bay Area A-List, the “family” part of the brand name is foundational. “Our approach to hospitality stems from the Disney culture; we have guests, not customers. Each and every visitor should feel like they are being welcomed into our home. We know them, and they know us,” Leslie said.

She added, “In 2017, we took our tasting experience to the next level with the redesign of our tasting room in collaboration with local designer, Erin Martin. We completely reimagined the traditional tasting room by renovating our 1930s yellow Crafts- man house and converting it into a comfortable and trendy tasting space. We also revamped our back deck with swing chairs and cushioned couches to provide for our guests a lounge experience that’s free of stuffiness and frill. We introduced a new food and wine pairing called the Elevated Experience ($90) to create a more immersive and educational visit. It’s now one of our most popular tastings and is offered twice daily to meet growing demand.”

The day begins at 5:52 a.m. With 380 acres of vines across Napa Valley on four estate vineyards in Carneros, Rutherford, and Capell Valley, it’s an early start for everyone, including winemaker Todd Graff and his team. “Each vineyard is named after our grandchildren, Lewis, Benjamin, Stella, and Jeremy, and has its own personality just like each of our grandkids,” said Leslie. Rich noted, “We’re proud to be family-owned, estate-driven, and nationally distributed—it’s a tricky trifecta to master.”


Rava Wines + Events •

Chad and Lauren first met at a little restaurant in downtown Paso Robles where they can now order their own sparkling brut from the menu. “Because Chad is a third-generation farmer, his passion for agriculture was contagious,” said Laura.

Champagne is a thread running through the Rava Wines story.

The couple purchased the property when they married. The plan was to open a wedding and event venue, eventually adding a winery and tasting room. That plan was embellished when they decided to make sparkling wine. “Because we love sparkling wine, it was important for us to make méthode champenoise to offer a premium product to guests who celebrate on-site,” said Lauren.

In 2015, the couple purchased equipment from Italy and began work on the first vintage with winemaker John Clark. “We now have eight varietals of sparkling wine to sample in our tasting room and three new varietals aging in the cellar.”

Surprise—or no surprise once you understand the pure energy from these two—the event side of the plan also came to fruition. A handsome, three-bedroom villa for guests graces the 505-acre estate. A state-of-the-art indoor concert space can host up to 1,000 and in 2018, an outdoor music venue was created for an intimate vineyard concert experience. A lush lawn and superior sound system make “Rava on the Rocks” concert series a Central Coast draw. Lauren and Chad said, “We’re excited about the 2020 lineup that includes Emerson Drive, Randall King and Devin Dawson.”

As owner/operators, this busy couple has their hands in every aspect of the business. Chad man- ages all the farming, winery, and sparkling wine operations. Lauren focuses on the marketing, office administration, tasting room, wed- dings, and events. On bottling day, it’s all hands on deck.


Mi Sueño Winery •

“We met in church as teenagers and were close friends for many years before we went on a first date. Ten years later in 1997, we were married in the same year we started Mi Sueño,” Lorena recalls. It trans- lates from Spanish as “my dream.”

Through their own words, one hears the strength of this partnership runs deep. And because Rolando and Lorena strongly believe that great wine starts in the vineyard, they founded Herrera Vineyard Management in 2003 to have total control of the fruit from bud break to bottle. “We farm, harvest, and maintain all eight vineyards that we manage across Coombsville, Oak Knoll, Mt. Veeder, Carneros, and Russian River. We walk this land together. We understand the soils and taste the grapes. We listen to our vines and because of that, we are able to make truly great wines that express the sites from which they come.”

Six children later, the marriage—and the winery—are a big success. Twenty-one years ago, the couple started building the brand as a passion project with just 200 cases of Chardonnay. Today, 100 percent family-owned and just as passionate, they produce up to 10,000 cases in a portfolio that includes Pinot Noir, Syrah, Tempranillo, Rosé, and a red blend named El Llano, plus limited production Herrera ultra- premium wines given names that reflect one of their children’s personalities.

Rolando acutely recollects the day in 2001 when the White House sommelier called. Over time, it happened twice more. “(They) wanted to buy some Mi Sueño Chardonnay for a state dinner President George W. Bush was hosting for Mexican President Vicente Fox. Barbara Bush even liked it enough to order an extra case for her cellar. Then in 2008, our 2006 Russian River Pinot Noir was poured at a Cinco de Mayo celebration hosted by President Bush. The third time, in 2010, our 2006 Herrera Rebecca Cabernet Sauvignon with paired with a Wagyu beef mole dish at President Barack Obama’s first-ever state dinner to honor Mexican President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa. Each time has been a great honor. There is no greater feeling than knowing that there are people who are enjoying the thing you have poured your time and love and passion into.”

Now with a brand new Napa cellar tasting room, the winning formula is expressed by Rolando: “We worked together, we embraced every moment, we put everything we are into Mi Sueño … we are all building this together. We still stumble sometimes. When things get tough, we take a break; but, then you pick yourself up and you get go- ing again. We love each other, we love what we do, and we could not be more blessed to be living the dream we built together.”


Kukkula Wine •

Kevin’s first language is Finnish, so his pronunciation of “kukkula” (kook- koo-luh), which means “the hill or high place” rolls off his tongue. He’s an organic dry farmer whose story is told by the dirt and whose philosophy is interpreted through hard work without irrigation. Blends from estate fruits are produced with very little intervention.

Farming on steep hillsides is always a challenge. Kevin and Paula tend to the vines around the clock and appreciate the beauty of all the seasons—fall harvest, winter fog, spring wildflowers, summer sunsets—are “so amazing when you’re living in a vineyard.”

Paula and Kevin met on a blind date in 1985 and developed an infatuation with wine when Kevin started making it around 1990 with a couple of friends in the basement of their newly built Topanga Canyon home. “We planted grapes there a few years later,” said Paula. “That was the beginning of a hobby gone wildly out of control.”

Kevin remembers, “After several years of basement winemaking and farming an acre-and-a-half of vines, I convinced Paula to come with me to explore Paso. That was the fall of 2003. On that first trip, we discovered the Adelaida community and were instantly taken by its rugged beauty.”

We wondered how the couple decided to undertake ambitious dry- farmed Rhone farming and winemaking. Paula said, “The dry farming was definitely influenced by our neighbor, Dave Osgood, who has been farming in the Adelaida area forever. Also, wanting to farm organically, we thought dry-farming made sense, and it really pushed us to be good stewards of the land. And, did we mention ‘hobby gone wildly out of control?’”

There are many responsibilities to be divided up with farming, winemaking, olive oil production (seven varietals produced on eight acres), wine club dinners, and the tasting room on Chimney Rock Road in Paso Robles. Kevin is solely responsible for everything farming and winemaking. The tasting room is a shared role, although the couple realizes that as winemaker, Kevin is a much more appreciated presence for guests. Paula is the back-up, errand-runner-in-chief, and in charge of all food and events and organizing around the wine club. “Because our youngest started college last fall, Paula will probably be taking on more responsibility in the future,” Kevin added.